Fantasy football drafts have come and gone. Now it’s time for managers to set their lineups. The 2020 season kicks off Thursday night, as the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs host the Houston Texans in a rematch of last year’s AFC Divisional Round thriller.
Before the NFL’s opening night, let’s take a look at which tight ends to play in Week 1 for fantasy football. Star tight ends such as Travis Kelce, Greg Kittle and Zach Ertz, etc. need not analysis—they are automatic weekly plays. But what about ‘fringe’ starting-caliber fantasy tight ends? Let’s explore who to start—and who to sit—for the NFL’s opening weekend.
TEs to Start in Week 1
Jack Doyle, Colts
Eric Ebron left the Indianapolis Colts in free agency to join the Pittsburgh Steelers on a two-year, $12 million pact. With Ebron out of the picture, Doyle is now the starting tight end. Doyle’s backup, Trey Burton, will miss the first few weeks of the season due to a calf injury. This will give Doyle all the snaps and pass-catching opportunities he can handle early on in the year.
Doyle will now be catching passes from Philip Rivers. The longtime Chargers star quarterback loves throwing to tight ends. Since 2014, Rivers has targeted his tight ends an NFL-high 36.3% of the time. This aligns perfectly with the Colts’ offensive mindset, which features tight ends heavily. Colts’ tight ends corralled a league-best 28 TDs over the past two years.
Rivers, 38, will be looking to check down more as his arm strength decreases, which means more targets for Doyle. The 30-year-old could benefit the most from the signing of Rivers, who has thrived in tandem with tight ends throughout his lengthy career.
Phillip Rivers season averages when throwing to TEs since 2007:
114 targets, 82 catches, 986 yards, 9 TDs
cc: Jack Doyle
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) March 17, 2020
With a favorable matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Doyle is a strong start in Week 1.
Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers
As noted earlier, Ebron signed with the Steelers in the offseason. A poor blocker, Ebron is on the field for one run reason—to catch passes. He should do just in Week 1 against the New York Giants, who are expected to be one of the worst defenses in football.
Ebron had a down year in 2019. Injuries limited him to 11 games. He registered 31 receptions with only 3 TDs. But he hauled in 13 touchdowns in 2018 with Andrew Luck quarterbacking the Colts. He will be on the receiving end of passes from Ben Roethlisberger, a major upgrade from his situation last year with Jacoby Brissett.
The Steelers are hyping up Ebron, who could shine in his Steelers debut.
The presence of Eric Ebron allowed the Steelers to feel comfortable going to 5 WRs since he’s almost like another himself.
More often than not, he will be flexed out all over the field as a mismatch chess piece. Ebron’s going to get a lot of targets and looks this year.
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) September 5, 2020
Hayden Hurst, Falcons
Hayden Hurst spent the first two seasons of his career with the Baltimore Ravens. Overshadowed by star tight end Mark Andrews, Hurst has a chance to make a name for himself with the Atlanta Falcons and provide fantasy football value.
The Falcons saw their Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper leave in free agency for the Cleveland Browns. Addressing the glaring hole at the position, the Falcons traded a second-round pick to the Ravens to acquire Hurst.
Hurst, the No. 28 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, showed flashes in limited playing time last year:
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 8, 2019
Atlanta hosts the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The game has an over/under of 49 points, the third-highest total on the Week 1 slate. Hurst, who is expected to be an every-down player, should have a fantasy football impact in a game projected to be high scoring.
Other fantasy football tight ends to start: Broncos’ Noah Fant (vs. Titans), Rams’ Tyler Higbee (vs. Cowboys), Chargers’ Hunter Henry (at Bengals)
TEs to Sit in Week 1
Chris Herndon, Jets
However, the Jets face off against the Buffalo Bills, one of the NFL’s powerhouse defenses. The Bills were particularly stingy against tight ends last year, yielding the second-fewest receiving yards to the position in 2019. Furthermore, the Bills gave up just 5 TDs to tight end last season—a major fantasy football red flag for Herndon, who is a touchdown-dependent fantasy player until proven otherwise.
Darren Fells, Texans
There might be an urge for some to start Darren Fells against the Chiefs in a game projected for 52.5 points, the most among any Week 1 contest. Even with a likely shootout, Fells can’t be trusted in fantasy.
While Fells did catch seven TDs last season, he finished with 20 or fewer yards eight times last year. He is a boom-or-bust player whose fantasy relevancy relies almost entirely upon reaching pay dirt. Leave him on the bench.
Ian Thomas, Panthers
Greg Olsen left the Carolina Panthers in the offseason to play with Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. This opened the door for Ian Thomas to become Carolina’s starting tight end.
While Thomas won’t face much competition for snaps at the position, he still may not be a focal point of the offense. The Panthers added wideout Robby Anderson in free agency to join a talented receiving set that includes D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. Add in the fact that All-Pro Christian McCaffrey set an NFL record with 119 receptions by a running back in 2019, and it’s easy to see why Thomas could be starved for targets on a team with plenty of mouths to feed.
Other fantasy football tight ends to sit: Bengals’ C.J. Uzomah (vs. Chargers), Bucs’ O.J. Howard (at Saints), Bears’ Jimmy Graham (at Lions)